CPEC route through Kashmir could create tension with India: UN report
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor’s route through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir could create tensions with India and lead to “further political instability” in the region, a UN body has warned in a new report.
The report on China’s Belt and Road Initiative, released on Tuesday by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia Pacific (ESCAP), the UN’s regional development arm, said President Xi Jinping’s ambitious project has the potential to position the region as an epicentre for growth and trade.
However, the report prepared at the request of the Chinese government flagged concerns about social and environmental safeguards and the route of the CPEC passing through Kashmir.
“The dispute over Kashmir is also of concern, since the crossing of the (CPEC) in the region might create geo-political tension with India and ignite further political instability,” the 94-page report said.
India has repeatedly voiced its objections to the route of the CPEC passing through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). New Delhi did not send a representative to the Belt and Road Forum held in Beijing last week because of these concerns.
China has said the CPEC is an economic initiative that is “not relevant to disputes over territorial sovereignty”. Beijing has also said the project does not affect its position on the Kashmir issue, which should be addressed through negotiations between India and Pakistan.
The ESCAP report also referred to the political instability in Afghanistan and said this could “limit the potential benefits of transit corridors to population centres near Kabul or Kandahar, as those routes traverse southern and eastern Afghanistan where the Taliban are most active”.
It was more critical about the implications of the CPEC for Balochistan, Pakistan’s resource-rich province that has been troubled by a long-running insurgency. It referred to the impact of migrants on the ethnic Baloch, who have been demanding a greater say in the use of the province’s abundant natural resources, including gas and minerals.
The CPEC, the report said, “could lead to widespread displacement of local communities”.
“In Balochistan, there are concerns that migrants from other regions of Pakistan will render ethnic Baloch a minority in the province…In addition, Hazaras are another minority of concern. If the benefits of the proposed (CPEC) are reaped by large conglomerates, linked to Chinese or purely Punjabi interests, the identity and culture of the local population could be further marginalized,” the report said.
There were also concerns that the CPEC would pass through an “already narrow strip of cultivable land” in mountainous western Pakistan, “destroying farmland and orchards”.
“The resulting resettlements would reduce local population into an ‘economically subservient minority’. Marginalisation of local population groups could re-ignite separatist movements and toughen military response from the Government,” the report said.
ESCAP’s executive secretary Shamshad Akhtar, a former chief of the State Bank of Pakistan, was silent on the concerns related to Kashmir in her foreword to the report but said the “success of an initiative of this scale and ambition will depend on intelligent implementation built on strong analysis”.
“For it to be inclusive, the BRI should be informed by broad consultation of affected communities, including on health, employment and land rights issues,” she wrote.